When you first set up your business, you probably had a great network of friends, family and business contacts who you promoted yourself to. There really is no better way to start. They know and trust you, they will recommend you to their own networks and you’ll be delighted at how much business comes your way.
But after six to twelve months – maybe less – you realise that you need to find new customers. You need to find people who have never heard of you and to convince them that your product or service is just what they need.
So, what next?
Well, the first thing to look at is whether you can make it easier for your existing network to recommend you to others. You could add a “refer a friend” page to your website, and offer discounts or free services to both parties; the referrer and the referred. You could also encourage them to recommend you, either through reviews and testimonials, or via social media tools such as Twitter.
PR and social media are great ways to grow your customer or client base in a personable way, allowing you to have two way conversations and get endorsement from influential journalists and bloggers. There are a number of techniques you can use, depending on your business. Here are some of my favourites.
Your blog and Twitter
Use your blog or Twitter feed to share small pieces of information which will establish you as an “expert”. Highlight promotions and new products, but beware, if you do this too often people will switch off. Try and write your blog in a conversational feel and respond to comments. Make yourself indispensible!
Use Google blog searches and Twitter applications like TweetDeck or Hootsuite to find people who are already in the market for your services, or who might review or endorse you.
Other websites and media
Go a step further and share your expertise with others through websites and publications which are read by your target market.
You might think that you have nothing to share, but think harder – I bet you do! And you’d be surprised at how many people would like to hear what you have to say. If writing is not your thing find someone else to help you out.
Sell the people behind the company
This is a great way to set you apart from the competition. For example, there might be twenty cupcake firms in the North West, but I’d rather go to the one run by “Carla” because I’ve been on the website, and feel like I know her already.
What sets you apart” Is it your age, your background, your ethos” Do you have an interesting personal story of how you set up your venture Anything that makes you different should be shared – as long as it is in keeping with your business!
These days, you can easily film a video on your phone or camera, upload photos, record an audio podcast or make a slideshow with your photos. Don’t be afraid to show some of your personality. Only do what you feel comfortable with and always consider what your target market would like to see.
This is a way of retaining new customers and reminding them you’re there. It’s easier than you think: if you already have a design or communications agency, they probably have a newsletter template which they can tailor with your logo and branding.
You usually pay per recipient and a few pounds per newsletter. You can track who is opening it, which articles and promotions they like best, and can even measure how it converts into sales by offering discounts and access to special events. Inject some personality into your newsletter through stories of what you or your employees are up to, or by adding pictures and links to blog articles. Howies and Leon are two brands which do this very well.